If life is like a John Hughes movie, in high school I would have been labeled a “jock.” From ages six to twenty-two, I played soccer year-round. One of my youth teams was even ranked number one in the nation, if only for a day. By the time I made it to high school, I preferred the center midfield position. I enjoyed controlling the movement of the ball and being in the center of the action. I had a tendency to unnecessarily dribble into the thick of things just to see if I could find my way out. While admittedly not the fastest player on the field, I had excellent ball control and quick feet. The problem was that the varsity team already had those central midfield positions filled by two well-respected players who had the ability to play as one unit. This unfortunate situation provided me the opportunity to reinvent myself as a player. It turns out that I am a natural striker. Over the course of four years, I scored roughly 120 goals and assisted around 80. Captain. All-county. All-state. State Champion. Most Valuable Player. Player of the Year. I personally identified as “soccer player,” first and foremost.
This self-image started to evolve when I decided to turn down the recruitment efforts of a small college in favor of a university with highly respected academics. In college, I chose not to try and walk-on to the varsity team. Settling instead for club soccer, I then I had time to work in the archaeology lab and join a sorority. My outside identifier became more complicated and more geared toward my academic accomplishments.
While I still inwardly identify as “soccer player,” I no longer immediately communicate this label to my colleagues. At a recent departmental luncheon, “fashionista” was the nickname written on my sandwich. Fashionista! This must be the Twilight Zone!
Historically speaking, communal sports provide the skills necessary to succeed in hunting or warring. Developmentally, games and sports are often played by adolescents as a part of socialization and enculturation. Proximally, I chose soccer because that is the sport my older brother played. I am extremely grateful that he steered my athletic abilities toward the best sport in the world. I trained my mind to read plays and trained my body, turning complicated moves into muscle memory. To this day, I walk with my right foot pointed slightly outward as if a ball might at any moment come careening toward me. Functionally, I am and will forever be a soccer player.